This article by Greg Lane first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
While it’s great not needing to own a car in Tokyo (with all the incumbent expenses) there’s no question that it can be fun or sometimes necessary (big shopping trips) to get behind the wheel. That’s where car sharing services – like Times Car Plus – come in really handy, and for much less money than you might expect.
Times Car Plus is a service run by the company that operates the Times Car 24 parking lots which seem to sprout up on vacant land whenever a building gets demolished. There are literally thousands of locations dotted throughout the metropolis and beyond, so there is more than likely one nearby wherever you are in Tokyo. While the carparks are almost ubiquitous, not all of them have Times Car Plus cars available. Small parking lots may have only 1 or 2 cars while the bigger ones may have up to 10 or more cars available.
Getting Signed Up
Although sign-up and reservation is all in Japanese (if you don’t read Japanese, you’ll definitely need a friend to help). When you sign-up, you’ll have the option of joining as a corporate member or as an individual. If you have your own company in Japan, you’re best to sign-up as a company as it’s cheaper. Individual membership fees are ¥1,030 a month while the company plan has no monthly fees. The individual plan however, does include ¥1,030 worth of free driving each month, so if you use it regularly it will balance out.
After you’ve entered your information in the website, you’ll be given a few options to complete the membership. The fastest way is to head to the one of the Times Car Plus offices with your Japanese driver’s license. If everything is OK, they’ll hand you your membership card – which you need to unlock the cars.
How It Works
Reserving the car is relatively easy – even if you don’t speak much Japanese. Just install the Android or iPhone app, play with the map until you find a car nearby that meets your search criteria and then click the reserve button. This is where the system breaks down slightly – you’ll be sent to the mobile web page (which you’ll need to sign-in to) to complete your booking. When it’s time to pick up your car, head to the designated car park, put your card over the touch scanner on the back window and then climb in. The car will then start talking to you, telling you to remove the key from the device in the glove box. Then, you’re free to drive off. When you return it (to the same car park) you just do this in reverse.
Using the map, you can find nearby cars that fit your search criteria, then book them.
Times Car Plus has a super simple system for charging. If you just want to grab a car and start driving, the cost is ¥206 for each 15-minute interval. So if you drive around for an hour, you’ll be charged ¥824. There are no charges for fuel or mileage. If you need to fill up, there is a fuel card attached to the driver side visor which you can use almost anywhere. If you do stop to fill up, they even give you a 15-minute free bonus. The ¥206 fee is for what they term “basic” cars – Suzuki Swifts, Mazda Demios and even larger Toyota Prius and Honda Fit Shuttles. If you want a “premium” car, the pay as you go fee is ¥412 for each 15-minute interval. The premium cars include BMW 116s, Mini One Crossovers, all electric Nissan Leafs (leaves?) and Audi A1s. However, if you reserve one of the longer time packs, you can get the premium cars for the same price as the basic ones. For example, if you get the 6-hour pack, you can choose any car you like and the total stays at ¥4,020. The only condition is that the premium cars are popular, so you should make sure you reserve early.
Nothing like a Chiba traffic jam to remind you how awesome the train system is.
After you’ve completed your trip, you’ll be sent an email summary of your trip – with surprising detail. Listed, is the total time of rental, distance covered, maximum speed reached (I hit 99mk/h), emergency accelerations (apparently I had two), emergency braking (zero) and any subsequent penalties. The fact that it records everything means you should think very carefully before opening up the throttle on a deserted country road. As the maximum speed limit in Japan is 100km/h, presumably if I had gone a few kilometres an hour faster, I would have incurred a penalty.
In addition to the 6 hour pack, there are 12-hour packs, 24-hour packs, early night packs, late night packs and all night (strangely termed “double night”) packs – each with a mileage component. They also run regular campaigns. For example, there is currently a whole weekend pack during autumn for approx. ¥9,000. Generally, for longer rental periods, you may find places like Niconico Rentacar to be better value.
So how is it?
It generally works really well. However, you are sharing the car with others, so you’re hoping that the previous occupants cleaned up properly after themselves. On my first experience, the car was spotless. On the second, it contained rubbish, empty drink containers, food crumbs and even two boxes of cigarettes – all of which I had to throw away. After you’ve returned the car, Times Car Plus sends you an email asking about the state of the car which gives you the chance to tell them that it contained rubbish – so presumably the previous driver will get a black mark against their membership or some kind of penalty.
The actual driving is more fun than I expected. Tokyo’s blade runner style road system with tunnels, multilevel bridges and elevated motorways taller than a 10-storey building and toll booths every 5 minutes can seem intimidating, but you’ll likely find traffic levels much lower to what you’re used to at home and finding your way around isn’t difficult at all. If you can’t use the Japanese sat nav system, Google Maps turn by turn instructions also work pretty well.
Car sharing has really taken off in Japan recently. In addition to Times Car Plus, there is Orix Car Sharing and a another company called Careco – both of which partner with other car park providers to offer similar services so if Times Car Plus is not available near you, these may be good alternatives. We hope to review both of these at some time in the future, so stay tuned!
Read on Tokyo Cheapo.
People from Britain, like myself, often forget that many other countries don’t have roundabouts. The idea of a circular junction with no traffic lights, where the unspoken rules of the road define who gives way and who pulls out and when — this frankly baffles non-Britons when they first witness the workings of one of the nation’s iconic roundabouts.
While standardized and made famous in the UK during the 1990′s, there are roundabouts today in places as far apart as Qatar, New Zealand, China and France. And now Japan.
There has been some speculation about Japan introducing signal-less roundabouts in the past but they’ve finally done it. There are 15 operating in 7 prefectures around Japan, as of September 1st. There are actually around 140 circular intersections in Japan, with some of these now legally designated as roundabouts.
In 2012 six unsignalized intersections were tested in Karuizawa, Nagano, and then further tests were carried out in Shizuoka and Shiga prefectures.
Motorists in Japan, with its danger of electrical blackouts from the frequent earthquakes and other natural disasters, are actually possibly safer off with roundabouts, as they can be used without power. Roundabouts are not only better for the environment, they are also said to reduce accidents.
And if the idea of giving way to oncoming motorists without a signal to tell you to stop sounds like a recipe for traffic mayhem, remember that the Japanese a polite bunch. We predict the roundabout will be a success in this land of small cars and good manners.
Now this is going to be fast.
Kyodo News has reported that Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) has formally filed an application today with the Japanese transport ministry to build a maglev (magnetically levitated train) line between Tokyo and Nagoya.
Maglevs in Japan go back to the 1980′s. There are two trains, HSST by Japan Airlines and SCMaglev by the Central Japan Railway Company. The HSST train uses imported German technology, making the SCMaglev Japan’s only real homegrown maglev. One of the HSST models is the popular Linimo train, built for the 2005 Expo in Aichi, though it is relatively slow by maglev standards.
JR Tokai’s SCMaglev (Superconducting Maglev) started development back in 1969 but went through a radical redesign in time for a new test in 1987. Tests have been continuing on special tracks in Miyazaki and Yamanashi. In 2003 the SCMaglev achieved record speeds of 581 km/h (361 mph). The government deemed it ready for commercial rollout in 2009 and since then plans have been proceeding for the new linking the capital and Japan’s third city, to be followed by a further line connecting Nagoya with Osaka by 2045.
If the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry give the go-ahead, JR Tokai may start building the new SCMaglev in October, though we will have to wait until at least 2027 before the actual line is operational! But if that sounds like a long time to twiddle your thumbs, then consider how time you (or your kids) will save hopping from Tokyo to Nagoya in the future. As we know, the Shinkansen bullet train is fast. But this maglev will cut the 100 minutes that express takes down to a mere 40! Once extended to Osaka, a trip between Tokyo and Kansai will be just over an hour.
The cost of the construction of what may be the world’s fastest train is estimated at ¥9 trillion.
JR Tokai and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also hope that the SCMaglev will be adopted in America as an intercity system fit to meet the challenges of such a vast nation.
Batman no longer lives in Gotham. He’s fighting crime in Japan!
Japanese social media has been abuzz with some amazing images of Batman driving in his Batpod along the highways in the Tokyo area.
Okay, it’s not quite as good as it sounds. This “Batman” was spotted by motorists on the roads of Chiba, the prefecture next to Tokyo.
Some images of “Chi-battoman” (Chibatman), as he’s been dubbed, was snapped on Sunday afternoon and the images went viral on Twitter.
Other pictures soon followed.
All right, it’s not exactly Christopher Nolan but you’d still be impressed if you saw this Caped Crusader drive past you on the expressway.
We’d not sure how legal this Batpod is. At least at one point the driver attracted the attention of the police.
Of course, cosplay (costume play) on the mean streets of Japan is nothing new.
And if you want to drive around the city like you’re playing Mario Kart for real, you should check out Akiba Cart in Akihabara. It rents out go-karts that can be driven legally on regular roads. Not surprisingly, it attracts plenty of fun video game cosplay.
Mika Ninagawa-designed Shibuya Chikamichi Lounge now open underneath Shibuya Station as rest stop for underground stylish shoppersWritten by: William on July 29, 2014 at 9:43 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments
Shibuya is like a hydra. Just when you think you have it sussed, along comes yet another shopping arcade or mall to confuse you.
Earlier this year Tokyu opened the Shibuya Chikamichi Lounge underneath Shibuya Station. The space is a bit hard to define (information portal? rest stop?), though we think it’s pretty typical of the kind of consumer spaces you often find in Japan. After all, in Shibuya Center Gai there is also the Blue Windy Lounge “smoking room” sponsored by a tobacco company, and other stations around the city feature special spaces for women to get massages and beauty treatment.
Shibuya Chikamichi (“underground street”) Lounge has toilets and baby room facilities but it’s more than just an amenity. It has a women-only “powder room” and a men-only “dressing room” (this is Shibuya, the men like to look their best too), though be warned the wifi in the main lounge is “fake wifi”, i.e. only a booster for certain domestic network providers.
Okay, so Tokyu lost a point there but make up for it in the lounge’s friendly and pop interior vibe. Perhaps the only thing it’s “missing” is an actual cafe or coffee bar, though there’s no shortage of those in Shibuya, of course.
Tokyu says this is the first station facility of its kind but we also like how the functionality has not taken precedence over how the place looks. The powder room features designs by photographer and film director Mika Ninagawa and the men’s room is also suitably snazzy and colorful.
Overseas visitors may also be interested to learn that in the lounge, among the desks and sofas for relaxing is a concierge who speaks English and can help out lost tourists trying to navigate the subterranean maze of Shibuya. (Officially he or she will be there to give out information about Shibuya trains.)
Open 10:00-20:00, Shibuya Chikamichi Lounge is located between the underground shopping plaza in Shibuya and Shibuya 109, and is free to use.
Tokyu is on a mission to transform Shibuya, a program of powerhouse developments it launched with the Shibuya Hikarie building it opened in 2012 (so posh it even has its own Swarovski-designed Lawson convenience store) and then its merger of the old above-ground Toyoko Line with the underground Fukutoshin Line last year. Several others are on the way. By 2027 it plans a further five large buildings. Shibuya will evolve further for train passengers when the JR Station also puts both Yamanote Lines onto one island platform and moves the notoriously distant Saikyo Line to a more accessible location. This is all going to be part of a new 46-storey station building with offices and shops. After all, if there’s one thing Shibuya lacks, it’s new construction work. Oh, wait…
JR West traditional crafts tourist train gets decorated with Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen kimono dyeing designWritten by: William on July 10, 2014 at 10:56 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
JR West has announced a special new tourism train that will run between Kanazawa and Wakura hot spring in 2015.
Kanazawa, known as a “mini Kyoto”, is the main city in Ishikawa Prefecture, which sticks out on the west coast of Japan in the Hokuriku region. The prefecture is famed for its sushi, kimono dyeing, lacquerware, gold leaf, and other traditional crafts. Along with Kanazawa, another major center for the arts is Wajima, a small city located further along the Noto peninsular.
Not surprisingly then, the new JR West train’s interior and exterior is inspired by the wa and bi (Japanese beauty) of Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen, a local kimono silk fabric dyeing technique (Kaga was the old samurai domain when the Maeda clan ruled Ishikawa before the Meiji Restoration).
The crafts train starts running in October 2015. It has capacity for 52 passengers in two carriages, including private cabins. The carriages are differently designed, either with Wajima lacquer or Kaga Yuzen themes. It will run for around 150 days a year on weekends and holidays.
JR often creates special trains for sightseeing lines. Along with Japanese prefectures’ penchant for yuru-kyara mascots, it is one of the most successful tactics for luring local tourists. They go as much for the experience of the transportation — whether it be kitsch or luxury — as to visit the place itself. JR West also recently teamed up with Sanrio to create a Hello Kitty locomotive for Wakayama Prefecture.
Kanazawa is anticipating a huge boost to its already fairly large tourism industry when the extension of the Shinkansen bullet train from Nagano to Kanazawa opens in spring 2015. While Kansai sightseers can take the Thunderbird express from Osaka to Kanazawa, until now Kanto folk had no equivalent and usually change in Niigata to the slower coastal train that passes down through Niigata, Toyama to Ishikawa. With the Shinkansen, they will be able to take one express from Tokyo straight to Kanazawa.
The Racing Miku Hatsune Miku GT comes in three models: HRM-Extreme (for racing), HMR-9 (high performance model for hills and slopes), and HRM-x (the fashionista’s choice).
The bikes are only made to order and come with eye-watering price tags. The HRM-Extreme comes in at ¥580,000 ($5,700) plus tax, while the HRM-9 and HRM-x are more reasonable ¥198,000 ($2,000) and ¥138,000 ($1,300) plus tax respectively.
Made using super lightweight esrMagnesia metal alloy, the bikes also include many components produced by top bike parts maker Shimano.
Goodsmile Racing has been competing in Japan’s famous Super GT car race in Vocaloid idol-themed vehicles for several years now.
Now they are holding the GSR Cup Cycle Race on September 6th at the New Tokyo Circuit. Look out for Hatsune Miku bikes galore!
And if Hatsune Miku isn’t quite to your taste or if you can’t get enough of cute anime girls, you can also get Love Plus cycling jerseys and water bottles, based on the popular SIM dating game.
Japan Rail knows how to attract customers. In between rolling out snazzy new bullet trains and other technological advances, it periodically customizes JR Yamanote Line trains to look like a chocolate product or a manga and anime franchise.
From September, a special Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running on JR lines as part of its Wakayama Destination Campaign. The sightseeing train will be an express with all seats reserved.
JR has consulted with locals and got advice about the sightseeing spots to include on the design. The prefecture is famed for the sacred sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountain Range, a UNESCO World Heritage site for ten years now. Southern Wakayama is also home to Taiji, one of the (controversial) centers of Japanese traditional coastal whaling and dolphin hunting, and its Whale Museum is on of the tourist destinations featured on the train, along with a uniformed Hello Kitty.
The interior of the train will also be painted with characters but the design has yet to be announced.
Although JR West is trying to push how it has worked hard to find a design that shows off the locality of the region, we have yet to find a tangible reason for the choice of Hello Kitty other than her apparently universal popularity (after all, Kitty-chan is not even Japanese, she is meant to be British). Perhaps someone can enlighten us? Sanrio, never afraid to license out its character to all and sundry, must be happy with the extra coffers, though.
The Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running for 33 days on weekends and holidays from September 13th to December 14th, 2014.
Wakayama must have a thing for felines and locomotives. The fortunes of the small Kishigawa Line were famously reversed by the promotion of Tama the cat to station master.
Can’t get enough of your favorite (ex-)AKB48 starlet? Now you can a take a flight “inside” her vessel.
Okay, enough with the puerile references, though AKB48 is hardly a stranger to dubious not-so-subtle sexual overtones.
Local LCC Peach Aviation launched its first Narita route yesterday with flights now taking passengers from Osaka to Tokyo for less than ¥4,000 one-way. To celebrate, they got former AKB princess Mariko Shinoda to help them promote the service and even specially decorated a whole aircraft in her likeness!
The Airbus A320-200 — aka the “Mariko jet” — looked about as glitzy and cutesy as you can get, while Mariko no doubt made a lot of fantasies come true by dressing up as a cabin attendant for the occasion.
According to the official press release, for what it’s worth, Mariko apparently designed the uniform and plane herself!
She then saw off the first passengers from the terminal gate with a radiant smile and a high-five for everyone, before boarding and flying on the plane (her plane?) herself.
We can only imagine what it must feel like to have an entire airplane painted in your own Big-Brother-Is-Watching-You-like size portrait.
Now a whopping 27 years old — positively ancient by idol standards — Shinoda’s popularity amongst AKB48 fans appears to show no signs of flagging, despite her age forcing her to make that venture out into the post-AKB desert. Apparently the sky’s the limit! Or is it rather that her career is up in the air? After, Peach is no ANA or JAL.